Move Forward Faster

Helping Communities in Rural Columbia: GAINS’ Ema Rossi’s Story

GAINS customers may know Ema for her supply chain expertise and knowledgeable customer service, but behind this friendly face is a philanthropic heart that makes a big difference in communities across rural Columbia with her foundation, On Giving Tuesday 2023, we wanted to showcase her work outside GAINS and encourage others to get involved.

Finding a Passion for Helping Students Starts in High School

Ema had her first experience volunteering at a Columbian school during the summer before her senior year of high school. Ema’s mother is a native of Columbia, so she spent most of her summers there, but this year would be different.

“A local public school eagerly accepted my help that summer, and I saw the condition of their school, economy, and living quarters when I walked them home, often to cardboard houses,” explains Ema. “I couldn’t look away; I needed to help. So, my journey towards creating 1064 Givers began.”

Ema began meeting other students and professors with a desire to improve the lives of these children. But where to begin? She wanted to make a lasting change; this led her to focus on infrastructure. She connected with a Columbian anthropologist who urged her to consider focusing on the indigenous community and traveled with Ema to Santa Marta and Laua so she could experience these communities firsthand.

Starting with New Infrastructure for Clean Water

Many of the students looked years younger than their age, their skin covered in bumps from their water, which was contaminated with chemicals from the nearby plantain fields. The chemicals had seeped into the river, which was their main source of water. Ema knew that bringing infrastructure that could provide clean water to these communities was where she had to start.

“The water towers are explicitly built to support the schools, but during implementation, we were also able to connect the water towers to 30 to 40 homes,” explained Ema. “The school gets safe water to drink, and each household receives clean water for improved hygiene and sanitation to prevent disease.”

To create a feeling of trust with the communities, Ema and her small team partnered with other Foundations working in the same area to help build relationships, secure materials, and raise community funds to share in the cost of building a well and water sanitation tower. 1064 Givers works with community leaders to ensure that the people know that 1064 Givers will deliver on their promises and complete their project. “It’s important that they understand that we’re not just giving them a gift. They also have to work towards it,” said Ema. “We jointly share in the cost, development, and maintenance of the wells and towers. This joint ownership is important for the long-term care of the tower, so when repairs are needed, the community will work to fix it and not leave it unused.” During the development of the tower, Ema and her team train a local community member to serve as “water master,” who is paid to regularly check the infrastructure and given the technical skills to fix everyday needs.

Supporting Students and Families During Turbulent Times

In addition to infrastructure projects, 1064 Givers provides meals to students and families. They work with the community to identify food preferences and supplies needed to feed an entire family for two weeks.

“Providing ongoing meals was especially important during COVID, which was a tough time for these communities,” shared Ema. “We continue to see this need today as everything is much more expensive in Columbia now. We work with the community and the schools to select families with the greatest need, so we can help the students and families that need it most.”

By working with communities to bring clean water to their schools and homes, 1064 Givers has:

  • Improved hygiene across rural communities
  • Students are healthier and do not miss days of school due to illness
  • Knowledge gaps are closing, with fewer students needing to repeat school years (or drop out) due to illness
  • Fewer children working on the streets as they are staying in school

“One of the main goals of 1064 Givers is to keep the school safe so that the kids can learn and not have to sell candy on the streets or steal. The students in the communities we serve have more energy for their studies and no longer need to be absent for days or weeks due to disease,” explains Ema.

Finding Others at GAINS Who Want to Give Back

Ema started at GAINS this past summer unaware of its shared value of giving back, but she immediately saw a difference from her previous employers.

“The support I’ve gotten from the GAINS community, especially my team members, is nothing like what I experienced at my other jobs. Instead of congratulating me on doing good, my GAINS colleagues showed real interest and enthusiasm. I recently shared about 1064 Givers during our monthly employee town halls and have engaged with many staff members who are curious about what I do and have expressed interest in supporting it,” said Ema.

Discovering Purpose and Fundraising to Empower More Students

The name 1064 Givers stems from a Columbia law stating that students are only required to attend school until they have a technical education. The definition of technical education varies by region. It often means in a rural or indigenous community that, students only receive up to an eighth-grade education. Once a student reaches this level, they are legally permitted to drop out, or the family can force them to drop out in order to work. “We were shocked when we heard this.” Said Ema. “The law encourages students and families to stay in poverty. We hope to one day be able to challenge this law and see it extended to a high school level. This goal is further down the road, but that’s one of our missions. We want to keep the students in a stable and healthy learning environment, so they don’t drop out and have a bright future.”

“Because we’re a small organization, we focus our fundraising on one night a year. We sell tickets to as many people as possible, provide a fun time to meet the 1064 team and learn about our projects, enter a chance to win an amazing raffle, and emphasize that this is the one time we come to our community to proactively ask for donations. We raise funds for the following year’s projects in one day.”

1064 Givers 5th Annual Holiday Fundraiser

Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022

8:00 – 11:00 pm

Location: Fulton Kitchen Market in West Loop

Buy a Ticket: 3-hour open bar, light appetizers, and 1 raffle ticket.

In 2023, 1064 Givers will begin its fourth project due to be completed by August. “The cool thing about this next project is it’s a partnership of two communities in the Columbian Amazon,” explains Ema. “It’s going to help two schools and two communities. We also hope to do more family meal sponsorships.”

If you’d like to donate and support this fantastic effort to empower Columbia students, we encourage you to visit for more information. If you wish to attend the upcoming December 3rd fundraiser, tickets can be purchased here.